31: A new definition.

- June 18, 2017 -

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking differently about risk, a change which was inspired by something Tim Ferriss once said. The way he sees it, risk is defined as “the potential for an irreversible negative outcome.”

We’re all familiar with the “negative outcome” part, as it tends to be the first thing that comes to mind when we think about risk. Somehow, though, whenever I’d thought about risk in the past, I’d never thought to consider one very crucial aspect of the risk equation: the idea that, in order for an action to truly be risky, it must also be irreversible.

By this definition, he went on to say, “inaction is the greatest risk of all” — meaning that, while the consequences of most actions are reversible, there is no way for us to go back and reuse any previously unused time. And once I started thinking about risk in those terms, I quickly realized that very few of the things I’d previously deemed ‘risky’ actually fit the bill.

Because of the perceived risk, for instance, I’d been avoiding the task of finding a literary agent to represent my work. I don’t know what it was about this process that seemed so daunting to me — making the wrong decision, perhaps, or not finding someone who was a good fit — but, in any case, my previous definition of risk had me running for the hills whenever I even thought about getting started. Now, however, I’ve started sending query letters to the agents I’d most like to work with, as I’ve come to realize that inaction really is the greatest risk.

You see, in sending out queries, one of the worst-case scenarios is that I’ll get nothing more than a stack of form-letter rejections in return. (And each form-letter rejection, I think, is really more like two rejections..)

Even so, however, as temporarily upsetting as it would be to get repeatedly rejected, I now know that it really wouldn’t be anything more than that: temporarily upsetting. To get one rejection, ten rejections, or any number of rejections seems daunting, sure, but it’s not an irreversible consequence. It’s a temporary setback, and, using Ferriss’ definition, it’s a setback which carries no risk.

Agent X might turn down my query, but, ultimately, because that agent isn’t the only agent in the world, my desired outcome won’t have been irreversibly affected. (In other words, the overall possibility of finding an agent will have remained more or less the same.) If that agent were the only agent in the world, then, yes, I would have some reason to panic, because their rejection would genuinely qualify as an irreversible negative outcome.

Unless a world with only one literary agent becomes a reality, though, I can just keep sending out more queries.


Hitting send,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.